What Nas’ Harvard Fellowship Means for Hip Hop

July 16th, 2013

(Photo: Shareif Ziyadat/FilmMagic)

By Jacob Rohn

Earlier this week, HipHopDX reported that Harvard University honored Queensbridge rapper Nas (real name Nasir Jones) with “The Nasir Jones Hip Hop Fellowship,” which is being established by the Hip Hop Archive and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, named after the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. from the storied institution.

According to an Island Def Jam press release, the Hip Hop Archive has three objectives: “To seek projects from scholars and artists that build on the rich and complex hip hop tradition; to respect that tradition through historically grounded and contextualized critical insights; and to represent one’s creative and/or intellectually rigorous contribution to hip-hop and the discourse through personal and academic projects.”

What this really means for hip hop cannot be overstated. What once started as an underground art form is now a part of one of the most famous schools on the planet. And what better representative to serve as the face of this fellowship than Nas?

In addition to hip hop as a culture being a part of Harvard’s DNA, this gesture symbolizes the implementation of emcees into the annals of great orators. It’s great to see rappers mentioned among all-time great musicians, but to see Nas’ name mentioned with W.E.B. DuBois is something that forces history to acknowledge the effect and impact of hip hop on society.

Harvard is known for producing some of the world’s most accomplished professionals, from attorneys to presidents, but they are also known for their exclusivity. What Nas, in cooperation with the Hip Hop Archive, has done is broken down a barrier and offered hope to young people, particularly those that aspire to attain a career in the arts, to be accepted among other great artists and recognized for having a talent that was once thought of as a detriment to music.

The same way that big cities like New York and Los Angeles influence pop culture trends from music to fashion, and even slang, Harvard sets the standard that other American universities strive to keep up with. So, in essence, what is happening right now will undoubtedly reverberate for years to come, which will continue to cement hip hop’s status as one of the world’s most influential and impactful forms or rhetorical and artistic expression. It has been said by many that Tupac could more easily be compared to Malcolm X than any other rapper, and with “The Nasir Jones Hip Hop Fellowship,” it becomes even harder for detractors to write off thought-provoking emcees and a hip hop culture rooted in speaking for those whose voices aren’t heard as irrelevant.

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